Friday, July 29, 2016

In the steps of William and Mary Dyer

© 2016 Christy K Robinson

Flying into Boston over the harbor.
Logan International Airport is built on an island and landfill.
In July 2016, I traveled from my home in Arizona to Boston, Massachusetts, to participate in a historical event conducted by the Anne Marbury Hutchinson Foundation. The five-day event celebrated Anne Hutchinson on her 425th birthday with a ceremony at her statue on the Massachusetts Statehouse grounds, lectures and a reception at the Congregational (Puritan) Library and Archives, a panel at the New England Historical Genealogical Society, a tour of the Boston First Church (organized in 1630 by Gov. John Winthrop, but now an ultra-modern building in a different location), a walking tour of Hutchinson sites, a quick trip to Harvard University (founded to train ministers to refute upstart women like Anne Hutchinson), and then a road trip to Portsmouth, Rhode Island and Eastchester, New York.

Dyer monument!
I've returned with all kinds of resources to share with you, and I was able to meet with some important people who are excited about creating a monument to Mary and William Dyer in Newport. There's nothing firm yet, as it's just begun and will be a multi-year project, but there is an opportunity for a Dyer monument placement in Newport. When it's time to combine financial resources of corporate sponsors, city government, crowdsourcing, and private donors, you'll be a much-needed component, and when it's time for the grand opening or unveiling, you'll have plenty of notice to plan your travel and vacation time to be there for those events and much more. 

Wonking out on 17th-century history 
Apart from group activities, I also was able to revisit the Mary Dyer statue at the Statehouse, but missed visiting a couple of other points I wanted to see. I "hiked" in the 95/90 heat and humidity to the King's Chapel Burying Ground to find the grave of Gov. John Winthrop and Rev. John Cotton, and accidentally found an ancestor's headstone there (that's my kind of Pokemon Go). I also visited Plimoth Plantation (1624 English and Wampanoag villages) as the guest of culinary historian Kathleen Wall, who treated me to 17th century Pilgrim and Native American foods for lunch.  

I'm grateful to friends (and even strangers!) who contributed to my GoFundMe campaign to pay my trip expenses. My event at Harvard University was changed to a professional video shoot there, and that means more people will have access to the Dyer story.

During my time in Rhode Island, I walked in the steps of the Dyers, 375 years ago, visiting Dyer Point/Battery Park, the area on the west coast where their farm was and where they were buried, the Portsmouth Founders Brook Park where they lived in 1638, the cemetery where Charles Dyer (their youngest son) is buried, the White Horse Tavern where William almost surely drank a pint in the 1670s, and taking an 80-foot sailboat ride out on Narragansett Bay. I visited the Newport Historical Society and viewed two documents in William Dyer's handwriting, and ordered a copy of a deed on which Mary Dyer's signature appears.

My hosts, who were friends of friends, and now are my friends, live in a beautiful home in the "boot" of Newport (see maps below). I went to sleep with a lightning show in the guest room windows and awoke refreshed with a view of a pond, a marsh with birdsong and tiny frogs, and the Atlantic Ocean breaking on the rocks nearby. They treated me like a celebrity, and helped with networking for the monument project.

I gave an author talk at the Middletown Barnes & Noble Booksellers, and met Suegray Fitzpatrick, a jewelry designer, from whom I purchased a necklace pendant of an anchor with the word "hope" that is similar to the Rhode Island state seal that William Dyer presented to the colonial assembly in 1648--and is still in use on the Rhode Island flag and seal today. I even flew into and out of Boston Harbor, as the Dyers did in ocean-going ships (see photo above).

1777 Revolutionary War map, plus Google satellite map of the southern end of Aquidneck Island, where Newport is located. Note "Dyers Point" is the same location as the modern "Ft. Greene" which is a lovely point called Battery Park. The island shape has not significantly changed in 240 years (which we can project backward all the way to the Ice Age). 

Newport (on Aquidneck Island) from the air, with part of Conanicut Island under the clouds, on my Boston-to-New York flight on July 26, 2016. I awoke on the southern coast of the island, drove my rental car up to Boston, took an Uber cab to the airport (in Boston Harbor), and then flew over Narragansett Bay and Shelter Island, NY. A fitting end of a week-long history fest for a Dyer follower!  


And then there's DYER ISLAND, which the 28-year-old William Dyer asked for and received in early 1638 when the Hutchinson party were purchasing Rhode Island from the Native Americans. Behind (to the west of) Dyer Island is part of Prudence Island, where Governor Winthrop owned land. At the bottom, to the east of Dyer Island, is Aquidneck Island and the town of Portsmouth. Dyer Island is a bird sanctuary. Photo by Christy K Robinson, July 26, 2016.
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A short YouTube video of the tide coming in on Narragansett Bay, at Dyer Island: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Tq4-RFz6ckY 
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Christy K Robinson is the author of five books:

Monday, July 4, 2016

Revolutionary New Englanders--in the 1600s



© 2016 Christy K Robinson
 

Because Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, Roger Williams and John Clarke, and almost every co-founder of Rhode Island, were very religious people (zealous Puritans, Antinomians, Baptists, Quakers, etc.) who sacrificed worldly goods and even their lives for their faith in God, we might think of these "Founders before the Founding Fathers" as desirous of a religious utopia in the New World.

Not. At. All. 

They'd faced religious persecution by their governments in Europe, to such a degree that they fled to the wilds of North America. But the people who governed the new society were theocrats who based their laws in the Old Testament laws given to the Israelites in the wilderness of Sinai. Ministers and magistrates locked arms and wills to accuse and prosecute, imprison, torture, and execute in the name of God. This marriage of religion and government is called theocracy. 

Williams, the Hutchinsons, the Dyers, and scores of others were banished from Massachusetts Bay Colony, reviled as heretics, and ridiculed for the rest of their lives, for insisting on liberty of conscience and separation of church and state. In the 1630s, though they believed and practiced their deep faith, they were the first people in Western civilization to form a secular (non-religious) government. They insisted on it, to the degree that religious liberty is encoded in the charter (constitution) of Rhode Island, which was central to the formation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution 130 years later.

In the 21st century, particularly in election years, there are many people who believe that the United States is a Christian nation, founded on Christian principles. Real, documented history says that is not true. The documents of the United States are completely secular. (Read the link below.)

The article at the link below was posted in February 2016, because theocratic advocates Sen. Ted Cruz, Sen. Marcus Rubio, Gov. Mike Huckabee, fundamentalist fundraising organizations, and others have agitated against Supreme Court (yes, conservative-majority Supreme Court!) decisions on same-sex rights and contraception and abortion. In state legislatures around the country, unconstitutional "bathroom" laws were passed against transgender people. (A Tennessee lawmaker said he knew their law was unconstitutional and he simply didn't care.) Those beliefs come from a religious base, which not everyone follows. And if everyone is not protected, there is no liberty.


Religion enforced by government always results in oppression.
  • Ancient Egyptians on Israelites
  • Israelites on Moabites/Canaanites, etc.
  • Assyrians and Babylonians on Hebrews
  • Romans on Greeks, Egyptians, Jews, and Christians
  • Christians versus pagans
  • Western Christianity versus Orthodox or Coptic Christianity
  • Christians on Jews and Muslims
  • Muslims versus Christians (the Crusades)
  • Catholics versus reformers
  • The Inquisition in Europe and Latin America
  • Anglicans versus Catholics and non-conformists (Puritan, Brownists like Pilgrims, Quaker, etc.)
  • Portuguese Catholics versus Reformed Dutch and Jews in Brazil 
  • Puritans versus Quakers and Baptists
  • Genocidal and terrorist purges are often based in religion (World War II, Yugoslavia, Armenia, ISIS, etc.)
  • Different sects of Muslims on Muslims 
The problem is not that people have strong religious beliefs. The problem is enforcing one set of beliefs on another person or a community, or discriminating against another because of their beliefs or behaviors.

Liberty of conscience is what Anne Hutchinson and Mary Dyer, Roger Williams and John Clarke lived for, and in Mary Dyer's case, died for. They didn't impose their beliefs on others, but advocated for the full rights of others. They were the Founders before the Founders, the great-great grandparents of the revolutionaries of the United States and authors of its Constitution.


“Those who would renegotiate the boundaries between church and state must therefore answer a difficult question: why would we trade a system that has served us so well for one that has served others so poorly?”
― Sandra Day O'Connor, conservative Supreme Court Justice

Read the link:

Founding Fathers: We Are Not a Christian Nation
by Jeff Schweitzer, scientist and former White House Senior Policy Analyst; Ph.D. in neurophysiology